Matthew Hardeman checks into Ian Schrager’s London EDITION for a heady dose of design and urban glitz
A short duck and dive from the heaving masses of Oxford Street and Covent Garden, The London EDITION strikes a rather different tone to Fitzrovia’s grander hotels and residences.
An ambitious collaboration between designer Ian Schrager and the Marriott group’s EDITION project, it stands as one of the industry’s larger, more memorable fusions of the historic and the hipster – what the group calls its ‘simple, sophisticated design sensibility’ (you’ll find the other EDITION hotels in New York, Miami Beach and Samya on Hainan Island, China).
Originally built as five lavish townhouses in 1835, its Georgian exterior still bears the architectural hallmarks of Soho’s finer abodes. Their structures were merged to create the Berners Hotel in 1908, frequented by the likes of King Edward VII, Carl Fabergé and other contemporary luminaries, forging a pre-eminent reputation at the heart of London nightlife long before its reinvention three years ago.
There’s a nocturnal air about the place: the scene is more akin to a nightclub than a luxury hotel as you head through the hotel’s old doors into the glass-walled vestibule and cavernous lobby, now reborn as a buzzing social hub appealing to the Soho House set (make of that what you will).
Guests are greeted on arrival by the spectacle of an enormous Ingo Mauer silver sphere suspended from the carved stucco ceilings, while the fluorescent azure rings of Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s 3D artwork ‘Portal’ radiate electric energy back into the dark across the hall, giving the space its pulsating, clubland energy. Thankfully there’s little to cringe about (minus a few overexcited fashionistas and punters: ‘Have you got money?!’ a Barbadian model screams in our ears): this isn’t the dreaded rave you’re probably imagining. The queues at the bars keep moving too, thanks to the astute young staff who move with speed and precision to quench their patrons’ thirst, mixing drinks and defusing tricky situations with aplomb.
Chic, unexpected elements dominate the ground floor in trademark Schrager style. His namesake firm worked with Toronto-based interior designers Yabu Pushelberg to restore the Grade II-listed space to its Belle Époque grandeur, splicing modern elements throughout its public environs to create what Schrager calls a ‘new kind of gathering place’.
The inspiration taken from Britain’s country manors and private member’s clubs is easy to spot – from the pale green velvet sofas and leather-upholstered modern wingback and mustard velvet slipper chairs, to the oversized deep tufted leather khaki sofa, black metal pieces and lighting by Christian Liaigre, 24-karat Dali-inspired gold floor lamps and antique billiard table (landmark original details like the marble flooring, arabesque atrium and stained-glass windows remain).
You’ll be hard pressed to find omissions among the amenities: for the more active, the hotel features 24-hour fitness facilities, and for the horizontal, 173 intimate light-oak and dark-walnut wood-panelled rooms and suites akin to cabins on a private yacht come kitted out with spacious walk-in showers, smartly-stocked minibars, 46-inch flat-screen TVs, iPod docks and free Wi-Fi, faux-fur throws, silk area rugs, George Smith sofas and slipper chairs and soft white linens. Some of the choicer rooms enjoy views of the city, with oversized terraces, cast iron bistro tables and lounge chairs.
Thankfully the EDITION stays strong on the culinary front: its restaurant, Berners Tavern, is headed up by executive chef Jason Atherton of Pollen Street Social and Social Eating House, who’s put together a menu of classic cuts and in-house specials with acute attention to detail (sadly we were only able to sample an excellent Eggs Benedict during a whistle-stop stay), not to mention the decor, bursting with Parisian flair: chestnut mohair banquettes and taupe leather and round, rift-cut bleached oak tables, true to Edwardian London's adoration of all things French.
The highlight? Sipping sumptuous cocktails while people-watching in the inimitable Punch Room with its low lighting, leather chairs, oak panels, and Victorian tchotchke (the bar is dedicated to, you guessed it, punch) on a Friday night. Be sure to try the Occident Meets Orient – a heady mix of Maker’s Mark bourbon, Darjeeling and caraway tea, blackberry puree and lemon juice; the classic Punch à la Romaine – famously once served on the Titanic – and the creamy Milk Punch, made with three rums, clarified milk, Somerset cider and spices.
If these don’t pique enough interest to get you past the scenesters in the lobby (or at least lubricate the elevator ride up to bed), frankly, you might be better off checking out entirely.
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Matthew Hardeman is Deputy Head of the Spear's Research Unit